The Central Coast Philharmonia

Triple Contrabass Viol

Recordings and performances of sub-contrabass string instruments are rare; over-10-foot-tall, the triple contrabass viol must be played with the performer on an elevated platform. It was originally a three-stringed baroque instrument tuned C-G-C with the lowest note C just below the string basses, the advantage being it had the appropriate acoustical power. But its impractical nature prevented it from surviving in the modern orchestra. The twentieth-century version of this obscure instrument contains a fourth string and a different, but by no means standard tuning system allowing it to descend to C or B an octave below those pitches at the bottom of the piano (ie: 32' C). There is the only known recording of one of these instruments, Four Compositions by composer Roscoe Mitchell; this recording is available from Lovely Music, Ltd. Triple Contra is played here by bassist Brian Smith. The Violin Concerto, the Four Poems, and Reflections of Honor contain parts for this instrument (or its larger cousin, the octobasse). However, in the Genesis concert, these parts will most likely be played by a tuned-down and amplified string bass.

Learn more about other Special Instruments